Posts in STS
Excerpt: Chapter 6: Villains and Laughing Stocks, The Gender Jackpot, Transgressing the Boundaries

Obviously, I had by now known and accepted the premise that English Studies was a battlefield of “textual politics,” and that the players made no bones about their agendas. Previously, critics in the field, like the old New Critics with their plodding close reading of texts, had pretended to be neutral, but their neutrality was merely a thin scrim for cultural domination. Dead white men had ruled the English canon long enough. But this was only the most flagrant of offenses. Other suspects were singled out for prosecution – including an exclusive focus on the text itself (New Criticism), assuming the centrality or superiority of European culture (Eurocentrism), implicitly endorsing heterosexuality as a norm (heteronormativity), believing that humanity is exceptional and that individual humans have unitary selves (humanism), believing in an essence of human nature and/or in the essence of essential types of humans such as racial groups and women and men (essentialism), the belief that neutral knowledge is discoverable by scientific means (positivism), the belief that words might faithfully represent an external reality (logocentrism), and the privileging of the masculine in the construction of meaning (phallogocentrism) – among others. Every one of these notions or beliefs has been treated as a villain, a laughing stock, or both. 

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The Trope of “the Poor Inventor” in the British Patent Debate (and Beyond)*

As recent scholarship on the history of invention has shown, the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century inventor was proposed as a plausible new hero of the industrial revolution. But the inventor has also been characterized as a creature of accident—of risk, poverty, madness, and premature death. By the 1820s, inventors were not only heroes of industry; they became its victims as well—“poor inventors” who suffered under poverty and oppression to bring forth the works of the mind. The case of the poor inventor was introduced and championed by advocates of inventive workers from the 1820s until the 1840s; the figure came to stand emblematically for working-class interests at large. By 1850, however, the ideological and rhetorical construct of the poor inventor was appropriated by a liberal, mostly middle-class lobby to affect the first reform of patent law in modern British history.

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From Romantic Catastrophism to Victorian Gradualism: A Reading of Epistemes

Several nineteenth-century scholars have remarked upon the movement from “catastrophism to gradualism” in the transition from Romantic to Victorian culture. They see the shift to gradualism in literature (and society) as the result of the incursion of science and its ideas into cultural realms  (e.g., Cosslett, Culler). While recent writings in the discourse of science and literature studies have complicated this one-way traffic by acknowledging a dialectical flow between cultural realms, such readings are nevertheless situated with reference to C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” paradigm.1 In referring literature to scientific discourse and vice versa, science and literature studies may capture a mutual conditioning of respective cultural spheres, but nevertheless continues to discount a reading of the determinations of both spheres by other important social and political factors.

In order to account for a shift from catastrophism to gradualism, I argue that science and literature must be referred to underlying discursive pressures mediating between cultural spheres. Rather than considering literature as appropriating the idioms of science, and/or vice versa, the social and political significations of competing epistemologies and philosophical positions within and across cultural spheres should be traced to account for changes within cultural representation.

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Historicism and Science Studies

One way to understand the diverse discourse known as science studies is to consider the ways in which different camps and theorists think (or do not think) the question of history, and to consider how historical theories and methods connect with epistemologies and the possibilities for critical discourse regarding science. Can the question of historical method or theory serve as a useful guide to the discourse, perhaps even a better index for considering the issue of critical engagement, than epistemological conviction (or lack thereof)?  I will explore the issue by considering the historical methods and theories of history of several interlocutors located within the discourse of science studies, in order to illustrate the possibilities for this approach. As the discussion should make clear, the historical approach is productive of comparative reading of interlocutors in terms of the possibilities for a critical discursive relationship to their objects of knowledge, as well as for demonstrating the relationship between historical method and theory, and epistemology.

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